Shomporko Online News Desk: Jacques Lee, a Toronto emergency department physician, met an old man who believed he was dying of loneliness during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Lee, the Research Chair in Geriatric Emergency Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Schwartz/Riesman Emergency Medicine Institute, stated, “He begged me not to go back (to long-term care).”
“He was isolated in his room for months and hadn’t seen another human,” Lee explained, stressing that the epidemic made it difficult for long-term care workers to engage with residents. When Lee was unable to follow up on the ER visit, he said, “It crushed my heart.”
Now, Lee wants to make sure other seniors don’t suffer.
In September, alongside a group of volunteers, he plans to launch a follow-up phone-call program called the ‘social isolation and loneliness trial’. It will allow volunteers to contact ER patients aged 70-plus who have been identified by a doctor as lonely.
“(Volunteers) will work with individuals to identify goals … that would improve their quality of life,” he explained.
The trained volunteers will then coach patients to reach those goals. A similar program, he said, has already found success in Australia.
“It is as bad as smoking cigarettes,” said Lee of the dire impact of social isolation.
Eighty-year-old Sharon Butala is surprised the number isn’t higher.
according to the Calgary-based author “It’s grief … its sadness,”. Butala, who lost her husband in 2007, says she has experienced loneliness herself.
In her latest book, This Strange Visible Air due out in September, she writes about aging, penning an essay on social isolation. For many seniors, she said, the pandemic has made it worse.
“The social engagement is down to zilch … it can get scary if you don’t get out of (the cycle of loneliness),” she said.
Danilo Bzdok, a researcher and associate professor of biomedical engineering at McGill University, is researching the link between loneliness and brain function in the elderly and refers to loneliness as a “infectious sickness.” ’
“It has far-reaching implications for the entire body. It has an impact on the immunological system. It has an impact on wound healing, according to Bzdok.
While COVID-19 has forced many people into social isolation, he believes the epidemic provides scientists with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about the capacity that distinguishes humans from other animals. “Complex social interaction,” Bzdok explained.